Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Since football is essentially Eurocentric, Africans were entirely ignored and after the 1974 disaster at the World Cup the South Americans practically disappeared from view. A lot was entirely missed: the changes of national team coaches in Argentina and Brazil, which launched conceptual transformation in both countries; the South American championship; the emergence of new stars. It is not that South America was not in the news, but those were dark political news of terror and military dictatorships. Whether one approves of or oppose right-wing rule, one thing is certain – political turmoil is hardly beneficial to football and precisely because of that is strange that recovery of Brazilian and Argentine football started then. Even stranger if one adds chronic economic and structural deficiencies in the football sphere of both countries (and South America at large). Perhaps the best is to start from the top: the South American championship, the oldest in the world, was staged after a long pause – it was played for the last time in 1967. The tournament was also renamed into Copa America. There was very little coverage in Europe and I know practically nothing about the competition. The scarcity of information was due to the South American fiasco at the World Cup in 1974, with one additional component: the new coaches introduced new players, who were absolutely unknown in Europe. If Brazil replaced Zagallo with fairly known name – Osvaldo Brandao – the Argentines appointed an unknown – Cesar Luis Menotti. The geographically structured tournament placed Argentina and Brazil in one round robin group, which automatically meant that one of the traditional heavyweights would be out before the semi-finals.
There were noticeable changes in both Argentina and Brazil: Osvaldo Brandao kept few players from 1974 and introduced many new ones. Rivelino, Jairzinho, and Paulo Cesar Lima were not invited at all, but others who were younger or played well at the World Cup were not in the squad either – Francisco Marinho Chagas and Paulo Cesar Carpeggiani for instance. Menotti used small squad with practically no survivors from the dreadful 1974 squad. River Plate and Boca Juniors were not represented at all – Menotti clearly wanted a major change and invited mostly young talent. The eccentric goalkeeper Hugo Gatti was included in the national team after quite a long absence, but the rest of the squad were still anonymous guys, including Mario Kempes, who impressed nobody at the World Cup. Let’s mention some of the suspect boys Menotti introduced: Osvaldo Ardiles, Leopoldo Luque, and Jorge Valdano. The world learned their names in 1978, except for Valdano, who had to wait until 1986. What a humble beginning… Argentina was eliminated. Humble? Looked like dead meat in 1975 – a bunch of born losers.
This is selection from 1976 and looks like Menotti stepped a bit back from his 1975 complete change of players: established stars Houseman, Carrascosa, and Bochini were in again. Kempes, Luque, and Valdano – out. Brand new crop introduced as well, but look who is in the centre: the veteran Carascosa. Some reform…